The Psychotherapy Practice Research Network (PPRNet) blog began in 2013 in response to psychotherapy clinicians, researchers, and educators who expressed interest in receiving regular information about current practice-oriented psychotherapy research. It offers a monthly summary of two or three published psychotherapy research articles. Each summary is authored by Dr. Tasca and highlights practice implications of selected articles. Past blogs are available in the archives. This content is only available in English.
…I blog about transtheoretical principles of change, microaggressions and outcomes, interpretations and outcomes.
Type of Research
- ALL Topics (clear)
- Alliance and Therapeutic Relationship
- Anxiety Disorders
- Attendance, Attrition, and Drop-Out
- Client Factors
- Client Preferences
- Cognitive Therapy (CT) and Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
- Combination Therapy
- Common Factors
- Depression and Depressive Symptoms
- Efficacy of Treatments
- Feedback and Progress Monitoring
- Group Psychotherapy
- Illness and Medical Comorbidities
- Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT)
- Long-term Outcomes
- Neuroscience and Brain
- Outcomes and Deterioration
- Personality Disorders
- Placebo Effect
- Practice-Based Research and Practice Research Networks
- Psychodynamic Therapy (PDT)
- Resistance and Reactance
- Self-Reflection and Awareness
- Suicide and Crisis Intervention
- Therapist Factors
- Transference and Countertransference
- Trauma and/or PTSD
- Treatment Length and Frequency
Sustained Response to Antidepressants and Psychotherapy
Furukawa, T.A., Shinohara, K., Sahker, E., Karyotaki, E., Miguel, C., ….Cuijpers, P. (2021). Initial treatment choices to achieve sustained response in major depression: A systematic review and network meta-analysis. World Psychiatry, 20, 387-396.
Two common treatments for major depression are antidepressant medications and psychotherapy, both of which have been tested in randomized controlled trials. Antidepressants are among the most prescribed medications, and an increasing number of patients are on longer-term use of these medications. However, it is unclear as to whether choosing antidepressant medication or psychotherapy at the beginning or the acute phase of depression will lead to a sustained response in the longer term. In this network meta-analysis, Furukawa and colleagues examine the important question: “which therapies can get me well and keep me well?” The authors selected randomized controlled studies in which antidepressants or psychotherapy, or their combination were prescribed and compared to each other or to a control condition (treatment as usual or placebo pill). In these studies, adult participants with major depression remained in the treatment or control condition up to 12 months post-treatment. Psychotherapies included many known treatments like CBT, behavioral activation, psychodynamic therapy, and interpersonal psychotherapy. This network meta-analysis included 81 trials representing over 13,000 patient participants. Combined psychotherapy plus antidepressant medication resulted in a more sustained response to treatment (better outcomes) in the long run than control comparisons (OR: 2.52, 95% CI: 1.66, 3.85). Psychotherapy alone was more effective in the long run than pharmacotherapy alone (OR: 1.53, 95% CI: 1:00 – 2.35). The advantage of combined treatment over antidepressants alone was about 14% to 16%, whereas the advantage of psychotherapy over antidepressants was about 12%. There were no differences in longer term effectiveness among the different types of psychotherapy.
This study shows that the effects of psychotherapy when initiated in the acute phase of major depression (at the outset of symptoms) are enduring over a longer time frame. Psychotherapies outperformed antidepressant medications, standard treatment, and pill placebo. The results also suggested that adding pharmacotherapy to psychotherapy did not interfere with the enduring effects of psychotherapy. The authors suggest that treatment guidelines for depression should be updated to emphasize psychotherapy as the preferred initial treatment option.
Negative Effects of Psychotherapy
Negative Effects of Psychotherapy
Cuijpers, P., Reijnders, M., Karyotaki, E., de Wit, L., & Ebert, D.D. (2018). Negative effects of psychotherapy for adult depression: A meta-analysis of deterioration rates. Journal of Affective Disorders, 239, 138-145.
Several types of psychotherapy are effective to treat depression, and there appears to be very little difference among the treatments in term of their effectiveness. Despite the documented effectiveness of psychotherapies to treat depression, there is also a growing interest in the clinical and research community about negative effects. Negative effects refer to the deterioration or worsening of depressive symptoms during treatment. Some may also refer to drop-out or non-response as a negative effect because these events are demoralizing and may prevent a patient from seeking more adequate care. Some researchers estimated that 5% to 10% of patients deteriorate during therapy. Deteriorations may not be due solely to the therapy itself, but instead may reflect the natural course of depression. In this meta-analysis, Cuijpers and colleagues examined studies in which a psychotherapy for depression was compared to a control condition in which patients did not receive an active treatment. In such studies, one might expect the control condition to represent what would happen in terms of symptoms if the patient received no treatment. Despite over 100 randomized controlled trials of a psychotherapy versus a non-active treatment control condition for depression, only 18 studies reported enough information to estimate negative effects. There was a median deterioration rate in the psychotherapy groups of about 4%, whereas the risk of deterioration in the control groups was about 11%. There were no differences in deterioration rates among types of psychotherapy (CBT vs others), treatment format (group vs individual), or type of control group (wait-list vs care as usual).
Only 6.2% of research studies reported enough information to estimate negative effects, making it difficult to get a good estimate that represents all studies and patients. Nevertheless, receiving psychotherapy reduced deterioration rates by more than 61% compared to untreated control conditions, suggesting that psychotherapy can help some patients who might get worse with no treatment. Therapists should work to recognize and evaluate deterioration rates in therapy because they do occur for an important minority of patients. Some have suggested ongoing progress monitoring as a means of reducing the number of patients who might get worse during psychotherapy.
Adapting Therapy to Each Client: Becoming an Evidence-Based Therapist I
Norcross, J.C. & Wampold, B.E. (2018). A new therapy for each patient: Evidence‐based relationships and responsiveness. Journal of Clinical Psychology, Online First, DOI: 10.1002/jclp.22678
Over the next several months, I will review in this blog results of a number of meta-analyses conducted recently on patient factors and relationship factors in psychotherapy. These factors provide evidence-based guidance to psychotherapists on how best to relate to and adapt to clients so that psychotherapy is more effective. This introductory article by Norcross and Wampold is an overview of the nine meta analyses related to transdiagnostic client factors to which therapists can adapt their interpersonal stances and treatment. The goal is to enhance treatment effectiveness by therapists tailoring therapy to individual client characteristics that are related to outcomes. Decades of research indicate that client transdiagnostic characteristics have more influence on outcomes than the particular treatment method, and likely more influence than the particular client diagnosis. The research indicates that giving the identical treatment to every client without adaptation to client characteristics is not an effective approach to providing psychotherapy. These meta analyses of client factors indicate that therapists should select different interventions and relational stances according to the client and the context. What are these client characteristics and therapist adaptations that are reliably related to outcomes? The client factors most strongly related to outcomes include therapist adaptations to: client culture/race/ethnicity (99 studies, g = .50); client preferences for type of therapy (51 studies, g = .28), client religion/spirituality (97 studies, g = .13 to .43), client stage of change (76 studies, g = .41), client reactance/resistance level (13 studies, g = .78), client coping style (32 studies, g = .53), and client attachment style (32 studies, g = .35). Over the next months, I will be reviewing in more detail these meta analyses of client factors and the practice implications of each so that therapists can use this evidence-base to help them to adapt to particular client characteristics.
Practitioners will find that fitting the therapy to clients’ culture, stage of change, religion/spirituality, reactance/resistance, coping style, and attachment style will improve treatment outcomes. Doing so will have a greater impact on outcomes than the particular type of therapy provided or adapting treatment to the particular client diagnosis. The results of this large body of evidence suggests that therapists should no longer ask: “what is my theoretical orientation” but rather they should ask: “what relationship, adaptation, and approach will be most effective with this particular client”.
Psychotherapy Relationships That Work: Becoming an Evidence-Based Therapist II
Norcross, J. C., & Lambert, M. J. (2018). Psychotherapy relationships that work III. Psychotherapy, 55(4), 303-315.
Relationship factors in psychotherapy are some of the most important predictors of patient outcomes. They outweigh factors like the type of therapy provided in determining whether patients get better after psychotherapy. In this second overview article, Norcross and Lambert provide a review of 17 meta-analyses of relationship factors in psychotherapy that contribute to positive outcomes. Like the review of patient factors also found in this blog and E-Newsletter, this article briefly outlines those evidence-based relationship factors that reliably predict patient outcomes in psychotherapy. The therapeutic relationship refers to how the therapist and patient relate to each other, or their interpersonal behaviors. By contrast, techniques or interventions refer to what is done by the therapist. Practice guidelines typically focus on interventions or therapeutic orientation. As the authors argue, what is missing from treatment guidelines are the person of the therapist and the therapeutic relationship – evidence for which is backed up by 5 decades of research. Even in studies of highly structured manualized psychotherapy for a specific disorder in which efforts were made to reduce the effect of individual therapist, up to 18% of outcomes (a moderate to large effect) could be attributed to the person of the therapist. By contrast somewhere between 0% and 10% of outcomes (a small to moderate effect) is attributable to specific treatment methods. So, which therapeutic relationship factors are reliably related to patient outcomes? These include: the therapeutic alliance in individual therapy (306 studies, g = .57) couple therapy (40 studies, g = .62), and adolescent psychotherapy (43 studies, g = .40), collaboration (53 studies, g = .61) and goal consensus (54 studies, g = .49), cohesion in group therapy (55 studies, g = .56), therapist empathy (82 studies, g = .58), collecting and delivering client feedback or progress monitoring (24 studies, g = .14 to .49), managing countertransference (9 studies, g = .84), and repairing therapeutic alliance ruptures (11 studies, g = .62) among others. Over the next few months, I will be reviewing these meta analyses in more detail to discuss how therapists can use this evidence base to improve their patients’ outcomes.
The research as a whole indicates that therapists should make the creation and cultivation of the therapeutic relationship a primary goal of therapy. Factors such as managing the therapeutic alliance, repairing alliance ruptures, engaging in ongoing progress monitoring, managing countertransference and others should be used to modify treatments and interpersonal stances in order to maximize outcomes. When seeking out professional development and training, practitioners should focus on evidence-based relationship factors (managing the alliance, judicious self disclosure, managing emotional expression, promoting credibility of the treatment, collecting formal feedback, managing countertransference) in addition to focusing on evidence-based treatments.
Psychotherapy for Eating Disorders
Grenon, R., Carlucci, S., Brugnera, A., Schwartze, D., … Tasca, G. A. (2018). Psychotherapy for eating disorders: A meta-analysis of direct comparisons, Psychotherapy Research, DOI: 10.1080/10503307.2018.1489162
Eating disorders can cause a great deal of physical and mental impairment because of the severity of the symptoms and because of comorbid conditions like depression, anxiety, substance use, and others. Anorexia nervosa (AN) occurs in about 0.5% of the population, bulimia nervosa (BN) occurs in about 1.5% of the population, and binge-eating disorder (BED) occurs in about 3.5% of the population. Treatment guidelines include both cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) as front line interventions for BN and BED. However, results from previous meta analyses of psychological treatments for eating disorders were confounded by not focusing exclusively on randomized controlled trials, mixing studies of adult and adolescent samples, combining an array of outcomes rather than separately reporting primary (eating disorder symptoms) and secondary (interpersonal problems, depression) outcomes, and not distinguishing between bona fide psychotherapies (like CBT, IPT, psychodynamic therapy, and others) from non-bona fide treatments (like self help, behavioral weight loss supportive counseling). Grenon and colleagues conducted a meta analysis of psychotherapies for eating disorders to examine if: psychotherapy is effective compared to a wait list, if bona fide psychotherapy and non-bona fide treatment differ in outcomes, and if one type of psychotherapy (i.e., CBT) was more effective than other bona fide psychotherapies (like IPT, behavior therapy, psychodynamic therapy, dialectical behavior therapy). Their meta analysis included 35 randomized controlled trials of direct comparisons. Psychotherapy was significantly more effective than a wait-list control at post treatment, so that 53.89% of patients were abstinent of symptoms after psychotherapy compared to only 8.92% who were abstinent in the wait-list group. Bona fide psychotherapies (51% abstinent) were significantly more effective than non-bona fide treatments (40% abstinent) at post treatment, and dropout in bona fide psychotherapies (17.5%) was significantly lower than in non-bona fide treatment (29.1%). Further, the difference between CBT and other bona fide psychotherapies was not significant.
Psychotherapy for eating disorders are effective for patients with BN or BED. There were too few studies of those with AN to come to any conclusions about their treatment. Patients with BN or BED are best treated with a bona fide psychotherapy that involves face to face psychological therapy like CBT, IPT, psychodynamic therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, or behavior therapy. Non-bona fide treatments like self help, behavioral weight loss, and supportive counseling should only be used as an adjunct to bona fide psychotherapy for eating disorders.
Association Between Insight and Outcome of Psychotherapy
Jennissen, S., Huber, J., Ehrenthal, J.C., Schauenburg, H., & Dinger, U. (2018). Association between insight and outcome of psychotherapy: Systematic review and meta-analysis. The American Journal of Psychiatry. Published Online: https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2018.17080847
For many authors, one of the purported mechanisms of change in psychotherapy is insight. In fact, the utility of insight for clients with mental health problems was first proposed over 120 years ago by Freud and Breuer. Briefly, insight refers to higher levels of self-understanding that might result in fewer negative automatic reactions to stress and other challenges, more positive emotions, and greater flexibility in cognitive and interpersonal functioning. Although insight is a key factor in some psychodynamic models, it also plays a role in other forms of psychotherapy. Experiential psychotherapy emphasises gaining a new perspective through experiencing, and for CBT insight relates to becoming more aware of automatic thoughts. Jennissen and colleagues defined insight as patients understanding: the relationship between past and present experiences, their typical relationship patterns, and the associations between interpersonal challenges, emotional experiences, and psychological symptoms. In this study, Jennissen and colleagues conducted a systematic review and meta analysis of the insight-outcome relationship, that is the relationship between client self-understanding and symptom reduction. They reviewed studies of adults seeking psychological treatment including individual or group therapy. The predictor variable was an empirical measure of insight assessed during treatment but prior to when final outcomes were evaluated. The outcome was some reliable and empirical measure related to symptom improvement, pre- to post- treatment. The review turned up 22 studies that included over 1100 patients mostly with anxiety or depressive disorders who attended a median of 20 sessions of therapy. The overall effect size of the association between insight and outcome was r = 0.31 (95% CI=0.22–0.40, p < 0.05), which represents a medium effect. Moderator analyses found no effect of type of therapy or diagnosis on this mean effect size, though the power of these analyses was low.
The magnitude of the association between insight and outcome is similar to the effects of other therapeutic factors such as the therapeutic alliance. When gaining insight, patients may achieve a greater self-understanding, which allows them to reduce distorted perceptions of themselves, and better integrate unpleasant experiences into their conscious life. Symptoms may be improved by self-understanding because of the greater sense of control and master that it provides, and by the new solutions and adaptive ways of living that become available to clients.
Author email: Simone.Jennissen@med.uni-heidelberg.de